Canada’s online magazine The Tyee is starting to publish reports based on a stash of documents containing some 3,000 pages that detail a social media surveillance program put in place by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
The project is codenamed Wide Awake and it took the media outlet over a year to receive these documents, having sued under the public records requests policy. The project seems to be named after one found in the X-Men fictional universe called “Project Wideawake” that deals with how to best control and use “mutants” that had started appearing around the world.
One presentation found among the documents contains such messages as, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it” – which observers think implies the RCMP feel their behavior is justified, as their surveillance of the internet cannot violate something that doesn’t exist.
With this specific project, the RCMP managed to keep the public in the dark about contracts it signs to implement Wide Awake. The RCMP claimed national security exception, and eliminated transparency that would have been provided through public procurement and bidding. As this law enforcement organization sought to sole-source contract Babel X or a tool similar, the RCMP told Public Services and Procurement Canada that making the project public would jeopardize the country’s border and national security and therefore asked to be granted a national security exception.
As for Babel X, it is developed by a company that already has contracts with US government and military selling them location data collected from people’s phones. This particular piece of software is designed for social media surveillance that lets those using it pinpoint what they consider suspicious persons or topics.
Both the documents, and RCMP’s representatives claim that they are going after data on social media that is openly available anyway, i.e., that comes from public profiles and posts. However, upon scrutiny of the documents, it emerged that RCMP spies have used the software tools at their disposal to access the dark web, but also to see Facebook users’ friends list, even if it had been set to private.
The powerful software itself allows RCMP to conduct their surveillance while going undercover.